Up till now we have dealt with letters that were addressed to churches. The first letter to Timothy is addressed to one single person. That means that you, even more than in other letters, will find directions for your personal life of faith. You will be able to identify yourself with Timothy, with quite some exceptions. At least, that’s the intention. When you notice that you deviate at certain points, you may correct them. In this letter you have a model in front of you that helps you to live to God’s honor.
We will first look at the person to whom Paul addresses this letter (read also Acts 16:1-3; Phil 2:19-23; 2Tim 1:5). By examining the ‘personal details’ of Timothy (his name means ‘God’s fear’ or ‘honored by God’) we get a picture of this young believer.
Was brought up in the faith:
Grandmother > mother > Timothy (2Tim 1:5).
He knows the Holy Scriptures from his earliest childhood (2Tim 1:5). Compare: Jochebed > Moses (Exo 2:1-10) and Hannah > Samuel (1Sam 1:21-28).
Timothy possibly became a ‘child’ of Paul in a spiritual sense, during his first visit to Lystra (Acts 14:6-20) on his first mission trip. On his second mission trip Paul comes there again and takes Timothy, who is then a follower of the Lord Jesus, with him (Acts 16:1-3).
Aspects of his call:
1. He has a good testimony (Acts 16:2)
2. Paul wants to take him along (Acts 16:3)
3. There were prophecies made concerning him (1Tim 1:18)
4. Paul has laid hands on him (2Tim 1:6)
5. The eldership laid hands on him (1Tim 4:14)
Now you have some idea of who he is you can possibly relate better to the addressee.
Paul clearly indicates his motivation to write this letter: “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, [I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1Tim 3:14-15). I quote these verses in full, because here you find the key to understand this letter. So Paul writes the letter that Timothy can give the right teaching on the conduct of the believers in God’s house.
Of course this house of God is not a stone building. The house of God consists of all believers who live at this moment on earth. You have already received teaching on the building of God’s house, for example in the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:19-22) and in the first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 3:9-17). That teaching certainly contains important aspects already for the way you’re supposed to behave yourself, but this first letter to Timothy is specifically focused on it.
There is another important issue you should know. Timothy is addressed as “man of God” (1Tim 6:11). I will comment later on this beautiful expression when we are there. Here it is already a good thing to remark that it is a title of honor that is not used for every believer just like that. The Holy Spirit uses this title only for a believer who shows Who God is in a time that the mass of Christianity is unfaithful to Him. In a time of general deviation it is important that the individual is faithful. Timothy was such an individual. You also can be such an individual.
Paul is demonstrating to Timothy which line of conduct he has to teach the believers. To Timothy, as a relatively young believer, that is not an easy job to do. Therefore this letter to his young fellow servant also has an encouraging character. Therefore the contents of the letter is also applicable to us, because the line of conduct Timothy has to teach, must always be followed by believers. To obey those instructions of conduct is certainly not an easy job, certainly not in the time we live. The resistance to obey is increasing on the contrary. But if you are willing to listen you will particularly be encouraged by this letter.
In this context it is important to notice the distinction between what is addressed to Timothy personally and what is addressed to believers in general. As it is said, the first letter to Timothy is addressed to one person, just like the second letter and also the one to Titus. (These letters are also called the ‘pastoral letters’). You cannot identify yourself with them in everything that is said to them, for they are persons who are sent by the apostle to act in his name or to take care of the churches during his absence. If we carefully pay further attention to the letter, the distinction will become clear.
The letter contains teaching for those who belong to the church. The church is presented here in the order according to God’s thoughts and not to what people have made of it. This order is important concerning the conduct of the church members in the world, where they represent God as Savior (1Tim 1:1). Your conduct in God’s house is being observed by people of the world around you. The man of the world goes on abandoning God as Creator. Consider the evolution theory for example. When God is being put aside as Creator it is of great importance that you represent God as Savior. This letter hands you the instructions for it.
When you take these instructions at heart, your life will be a reference to “God, our Savior”. Then this letter will achieve its goal in your life. In your walk in the world, in your relation to the people around you it will become visible that you represent a God of love “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim 2:3-4).
I would like to close this introduction by pointing to the word “Godliness”. This word characterizes this letter; it runs like a common thread through it (1Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3,5-6,11). You haven’t come across this word yet in the letters of Paul. Here he uses it for the first time. Godliness means pious and indicates an attitude that is focused on God and therefore pleasing to God. When the spiritual life is generally decreasing, this Godliness will be of greater need and therefore more appreciative to God.
Reflection: In which view would you be more like Timothy?